The Apple iPad Tablet vs. the Microsoft Surface Anti-Tablet

by John Kirk   |   June 20th, 2012

Last night, Microsoft introduced us to the their Microsoft branded Surface Tablet. Never have we seen such a clear line of demarcation between Apple’s and Microsoft’s visions of what a tablet should be. And at the end of the day, it is those differences in outlook that will determine the fate of each company’s respective tablet offerings.

Historical Background

For ten long years Microsoft tried to get us to use their desktop operating system on a tablet device. What we really wanted, they told us, was the brain of a desktop in the body of a tablet. Didn’t work.

In 2007, Apple introduced us to the first modern tablet to use touch – and only touch – as the user input. They called it the iPhone. Three years later, Apple introduced us to the iPad, and while the tech world sat on its collective hands, Apple proved that size really does matter – at least when it come to tablets.

Microsoft’s Tablet Vision

Now here we are just over two years later and what is Microsoft telling us with the introduction of the Surface Tablet? They’re telling us that what we really want is a keyboard so that our tablet can be used more like a notebook computer. What we really want is a pen so that our tablet can be used like a PDA. What we really want is a kickstand so that our tablet can stand more like a notebook computer. What we really want is a trackpad so our tablet can BE a notebook computer. (A trackpad on a tablet computer? Really? Just think about how redundant that is.)

The Microsoft Surface is not a touch tablet, it’s the ANTI-touch tablet. While Apple is doing everything in its power to embrace touch on the tablet, Microsoft is doing everything in its power to negate the influence of touch on the tablet. Microsoft is saying: “Sure, touch is nice, in a pinch, but what you really wanted all along is a tablet that runs like a notebook.” With the Surface, Microsoft has come full circle, back to where their tablet efforts began. But they’ve added a twist. Not only did they put the brain of a notebook in the body of a tablet but they made the tablet look and act like a notebook too.

The Lure of Everything and the Best of Both Worlds

“But wait,” you say. “Microsoft is not giving us the anti-tablet. They’re giving us a tablet AND a notebook. They’re giving us both. They’re giving us the best of both worlds.”

It’s a compelling argument. Why not do both? Why not have both a desktop and a touch OS on a tablet? Why not add a pen? Why not add a keyboard? Choice is good. Why not let the customer choose to use the device the way they see fit? Why not have it all?

Before we answer that question, ask yourself this one: Do you think for even one second that Apple – who had a two year head start on Microsoft – could not have added a kickstand, added an integrated pen or added an integrated keyboard to the iPad? Apple did not neglect to do those things…they CHOSE not to do those things. Why?

Focus and Simplicity.

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”-Steve Jobs

One of Steve Jobs’ greatest talents was as an editor, selecting what not to include in a product. Think of all the products that have way too many features. Now think about the iPod. The iPhone. The iPad.

“…the result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”-Steve Jobs

Every iPod killer, iPhone killer and iPad killer had one thing in common – they all had more features than did their Apple counterparts. Yet they all had less success. How could this be? Simply put, simplicity may be the greatest feature of all.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”-Steve Jobs quoting Leonardo da Vinci

Apple realized – long before anyone else did – that touch was the key to tablet computing. Styluses and keyboards are useful, but they pull the tablet away from its essence. They’re to be used, if required, to supplement, not sustain, the tablet.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas…”-Steve Jobs

Diverging Philosophies

Now, more than ever, we can see how differently Apple and Microsoft view tablets. Apple thinks less is more. Microsoft thinks more is more. Apple thinks “both” is the enemy of focus. Microsoft thinks “both” is the best of all worlds. Apple thinks that simplicity is the key to everything. Microsoft thinks that having everything is the key to success.

Apple’s philosophy is clear. The iPad is a touch device. It excels at doing the things that tablets are excellent at doing. If you want the benefits of a computer, buy a computer. Preferably one of ours.

“…we have a vision for the tablet. It’s a tablet that works and plays the way you want to. A tablet that’s a great PC. A PC that’s a great tablet. Surface.”-Steven Sinofsky, introducing the Windows Surface Tablet

Microsoft’s philosophy is also clear. The tablet is a PC. The PC is a tablet. If you want a PC that functions as a tablet, buy the Surface. If you want a tablet that functions as a PC, buy a Surface. Heck, we’ll make this easy for you to understand: Buy a Surface.

There Can Be Only One

To paraphrase that great philosopher, Sesame Street:

One of these things is not like the other,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which of these won’t work like the others
Which is right and which is wrong?

Was Steve Jobs and Apple right about the what’s important in a tablet or will Steve Balmer and Microsoft’s vision prove to be the more perceptive of the two?

I’ll tell you this much – we’re about to find out.

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • Ovi

    Excellent article

  • http://twitter.com/william_volk william_volk

    A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
    - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    • FalKirk

      Brilliant quote. Wish I had used it in the article.

  • steve_webb

    “A trackpad on a tablet computer? Really? Just think about how redundant that is.”

    A trackpad has buttons. A trackpad can handle Flash and Java. If everything is the key to success, and everything includes Flash and Java; then a trackpad is not redundant.

    Oh…wait… If the trackpad is essential, I guess that makes the touch screen redundant. Then why is the touch screen integral, and the trackpad optional? Lack of focus, perhaps?

    Those of you wondering when the MacBooks will get a touch screen: Now you know!

    Those of you wondering when the iPad will get Flash and Java: Now you know!

    Those of you that don’t care about redundant, and just want it all: Now you know where to go….

    You know what they say about the door?

    • rattyuk

      Here’s the thing. You are describing a computer, not a tablet.

      The Surface is a computer designed to have a ton of check points against the iPad.

      The problem is that every check point Microsoft added has nothing to do with a tablet.

      This is not a tablet – it is an Ultrabook with a soft, foldable keyboard that acts like a cover.

      Oh 2010 called and would like it’s argument back: Even Adobe has given up on Flash for mobile devices.

  • Stu

    Love this thought:
    “Every iPod killer, iPhone killer and iPad killer had one thing in common – they all had more features than did their Apple counterparts. Yet they all had less success. How could this be? Simply put, simplicity may be the greatest feature of all.”

  • quietstorms

    The entire MS event was bizarre. Not only did they essentially just release another PC but the apps they showed off in Office and Lightroom could only be used with mouse and keyboard. The press conference had virtually nothing to do with touch computing.

    • W. van Dam

      Apple has designed the tablet consumers love. The tablet PC format is obviously made hugely popular by the iPad, and heralded as the next dominant PC form factor (also on this blog – by Ben Bajarin).

      However, the iPad isn’t really suitable for office applications. And the MS Office Suite happens to be Microsoft’s cash cow. Unfortunately for MS, most brand owners are perfectly happy to simply jump on the iPad bandwagon.

      Consequently MS is now taking the lead in designing a tablet that is more suitable for office use.

      Obviously such a tablet is not the same as an iPad. If it were, there would be much less reason for MS to develop one, particularly with the possible dire consequences to their OEM relations. MS focused on the productivity features during the launch because that is the gap they intend to adress.

      I wish them the best of luck, but personally I’m quite happy to stick to my Macbook for office related tasks.

      • http://twitter.com/thetimchannel Tim Fuller

        I would buy Windoze for Mac (and put it on my Airbook) if I needed Windoze. Enjoy.

    • http://twitter.com/thetimchannel Tim Fuller

      Exactly, which is why I predict the top end tablet MAY have some market share in businesses tied to Microsoft, but the lower end unit will find the way to the landfill soon. No apps. That is probably why MS didn’t want to highlight. Enjoy.

  • David

    Great read.

    As much I love Steve Jobs quotes it was Leonardo da Vinci who originally opined “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”; just one great mind acknowledging another across the centuries.

    • FalKirk

      Agreed. I meant to say “Steve Jobs quoting Leonardo da Vinci”. I’ve updated the article.

  • Polimon

    With Surface, we are looking at Microsoft’s desperate attempt to remain relevant. It will be stillborn, it it gets born at all. Right now, Microsoft can’t even say when it will be available, or how much it will cost. It is a tablet with a fan. Yes, a fan is required to cool it. Ooops. And just how useful is it without the cute colored keyboard? Highly dubious. It is like a netbook with an identity crisis. It doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up. And of course, in true Microsoft fashion, the demo unit crashed while it was being introduced, forcing Sinofsky to jump to a replacement. Too funny. I’d say Surface represents the beginning of the end for MS.

    • DrewNusser

      OR…I couldn’t justify buying a toy for $499, but now that I can develop programs/websites/games and run the necessary memory intensive programs to do so on a tablet/PC I can finally see myself owning one. When I don’t need to do those things, and just want the simplicity of the tablet, it has that part nailed too. It’s a tablet AND a laptop replacement all in one machine – no need to pay for and haul around both. There we go – both sides of the writer’s argument.

      • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/his-divine-shadow His Shadow

        It hasn’t “nailed” anything. It isn’t available for actual use and Microsoft’s demo gave no useful information on how the device will perform.

        Unless Microsoft dumps the cruft in its legacy OS, their attempt to create a device that is both will end up with something that’s bad at being both.

        • DrewNusser

          I forget how anti-Microsoft people on this site can be. I’m not some kind of Microsoft fanboy (I prefer Windows, but I also own a MacBook Pro, 2 iPhones and an Android phone). Fact is that about 90% of the computer market still run Windows. Tons of those are laptops (way higher than the amount of tablets out there). Many of these consumers (myself included) couldn’t justify getting a tablet because they don’t do anything the phones/laptops we already have don’t do. Now that there is something that can be both, why not upgrade to that instead of a regular laptop?
          I don’t need a tablet, but I wouldn’t mind if my lappy had the ability to moonlight as one. I’m not specifically talking about the surface, because the design is kinda goofy. I’d be looking more for an Asus Transformer Prime device with an Intel processor and Windows 8 on it.

  • Rich

    Remember who won the battle over home and business computing. It wasn’t ‘simple/focused’ Apple.

    • benbajarin

      True, but I would contend because the market was not mature, and still maturing. Microsoft helped standardize the PC and what we are now seeing is the market fragmenting, which will have impacts on open platforms.

      The way the market was when Microsoft overtook Apple was not anywhere near what it is or looks like today. They are completely polar opposites. That is why there is great skepticism that you can operate like you did back then in todays market.

    • UncleLarry

      Apple lost the battle but not the war. The war is still going on …… guess who is winning the last few years?

    • DrewBear2

      You write in the past tense. This battle is ongoing and will never end.

      You also need to define “won”. Are HP & Dell winning? Perhaps unit market share, but definitely not profits. Even Microsoft is profiting less from Windows & Office than Apple is profiting from iPhone, iPad & Mac.

    • FalKirk

      “Remember who won the battle over home and business computing. It wasn’t ‘simple/focused’ Apple.”-Rich

      That statement is truer than you think, Rich. If you look back over Apple’s history, you’ll realize that the Apple of the nineties had no Steve Jobs and it was anything but a simple and focused company.

      • benbajarin

        This would be a topic for perhaps a fascinating conversation / thought exercise, but I am not sure the vertical model serving Apple well would have worked regardless back then.

        I think the open model of MSFT led to the mass compatible hardware forms that matured the market. When something is new it needs a standard to drive it to adoption. MSFT was the standard that drove computing into the mass market due to its partner ecosystem.

        That market no longer exists and tech products are adopted rapidly and computing products are now adopted quickly even if they are new like smartphones and tablets.

        My overall point is that vertical is working now but I am not sure it would have worked even if Steve was there to keep Apple simple and focused. I think Apple was always a consumer company just waiting for a pure mature market to emerge. That didn’t happen until about 2003/2004.

        • FalKirk

          Perhaps.

          Jobs from a 2004 Newsweek interview with Steven Levy: “The Mac user interface was a 10-year monopoly,” says Jobs. “Who ended up running the company? Sales guys. At the critical juncture in the late ’80s, when they should have gone for market share, they went for profits. They made obscene profits for several years. And their products became mediocre. And then their monopoly ended with Windows 95. They behaved like a monopoly, and it came back to bite them, which always happens.”

          When you read that, you get the feeling that Jobs clearly saw the problems facing Apple and had a proposed solution. Of course, we’ll never know for sure.

          • Roman

            I did not know of this quote, thank you! Of course, this may have been Steve’s realization in hindsight. He’s been extremely vocal that being fired from Apple was the best thing that happened to him, though it was so painful at the time.
            By the way, Sinofsky is a Microsoft lifer — started in 1989 out of school. So is Ballmer, of course. They never experienced Jobs’ “nomad years”. Not good for Microsoft.

          • FalKirk

            Roman, the rest of the quote is instructive too:

            “And, Jobs noted: “Look who’s running Microsoft now – Steve Ballmer – a sales guy.”

            Remember, Jobs was saying this back in 2004.

            Yes, Jobs’ statement was hindsight, but it was also brilliant analysis and a foreshadowing of things to come.

          • W van Dam

            And what was Bill Gates? A tech guy?

          • FalKirk

            I’m not sure where you’re headed with your comment, but I guess I’d say that Bill Gates was the product guy.

          • capablanca

            Gates was the ruthless, genius monopoly builder. He outfoxed IBM, CPM, WordPerfect, Lotus, Apple, Novell, Netscape, and many more.

            DOS/Windows/Office were never either innovative or best at anything, at least before 2002. XBox and Kinnect are the exceptions. Fine products both.

    • rattyuk

      @rich

      Again, you missed the point.

      The iPad is the device Apple would have released as the first Mac had the technology been there.

      The similarity between the original Mac and the iPad is obvious. People mocking it as a toy and not a computer… A relatively “small screen”… Completely different from what was around up until it was released and yet everyone going after it despite their initial mocking.

      The difference this time is that Apple isn’t run by a sugar water salesman and some bean counters.

  • DrewBear2

    Succinct & clear. Excellent!

    But “we’re about to find out” is a bit premature. By the time Surface and Windows 8 RT are available for purchase, iOS 6 will have added additional functionality to the iPad and rumors about the 4th generation iPad will have begun.

    Compare the Surface announcement to the January 2010 iPad unveiling. Reporters were allowed complete use of iPads after that event 2.5 yrs. ago. Price, availability and battery life were given. Let’s not pull any punches. Surface is still vaporware.

    • tz

      And repeating something i read elsewhere, it is ironic MS bragged about the Surface having a feature called vapormag. Very interesting word choice.

      • rattyuk

        I think it was vapormg. But I am being a tad pedantic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christopher.pelham Christopher Pelham

    Surface is about 1/4 to 1/3 heavier, isn’t it? maybe more with the keyboard cover? I just don’t think it will be usable AS A TABLET in the same way that iPad (and Nook and Kindle) are. I wouldn’t hold that with one hand in the subway etc. and it seems a bit clunky (and potentially underpowered) compared to a Macbook Air or ultrabook so I wonder if businessmen will truly prefer it to an ultrabook. If not, then what is the market? especially if there are not 100,000 apps in the beginning.

    I truly think that laptop and tablet are two separate devices and that it is better to have one of each that to have one device that is not really satisfying at either function…but we shall see.

  • Alfiejr

    when i want to do “real work” – spreadsheets, business letters, contracts, etc. – on the road, i take my laptop. i need that larger screen for those. and so do most professionals. it’s worth the several pounds in my shoulder bag. no small screen tablet is adequate for that. i’ll have several docs and a couple of applications open at once, going back and forth. doesn’t matter if it could “run Windows” like the Intel Surface, it’s just too small.

    but when i just need to “keep in touch” and “check in,” then a tablet is fine. i can sign a pdf if needed, and that’s as far as it goes. the iPad is very adequate for this. and when i’m on my own time/vacation, the iPad is great.

    that’s why the Intel Surface tablet is DOA. for “real work,” it is hopelessly inferior to a good notebook. it’s all about using the best tool for the job. and for personal use it’s overkill.

    the Surface RT tablet has potential, aiming at the same purposes as the iPad and its Android imitators. but … so did the Zune. we’ll have to see how MS’ consumer ecosystem and “just works” ease of use stack up.

    • FalKirk

      “it’s all about using the best tool for the job.”-Alfiejr

      Your entire post is very nicely put.

  • missmyst

    As a designer I am insulted by this thing. It’s absolutely hideous.
    The gaudy blue keyboard is bad enough, but a broad empty border surounds the flat teal wallpaper, onto which orange, green and purple ’tiles’ cram together on the screen.
    It’s the antithesis of good design, I can’t bring myself to look at it any more.

  • Alfred Galli

    If you really want a keyboard Logitech makes an IPad cover with a built in keyboard. And you still end up with an IPad not some almost ultra book wannabe. How long does the Microsoft board allow Balmer to remain.

  • jsk2

    Here, here.

    I was surprised there was no Kinect attachment after hearing all the useless-on-a-tablet stuff they added. wow. A stylus, physical keyboard, AND a trackpad?!? On a touch screen tablet?!? Really?!?

  • dgrayson98

    Surface is a touchscreen notebook PC with a removable keyboard.

  • tabletpcguy

    “A writer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

    Ah, but FalKirk / John Kirk seems to have that innate desire himself to add to his article and respond to comments. A perfectly written (designed) article would not need further explanation, would it not?

    • benbajarin

      Not when there is nothing left to add…. But nothing to take away. By John engaging in intelligent and useful dialogue with his commenters he is adding not taking away. Your use of that quote makes no sense in this context.

    • FalKirk

      “Ah, but FalKirk / John Kirk seems to have that innate desire himself to add to his article and respond to comments. A perfectly written (designed) article would not need further explanation, would it not?”-tabletpcguy

      ‘I am sorry this is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.’

      This apology is attributed to such fine minds as Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin and even Marie Curie. I often think of it when I write. I well know that sometimes one can be twice as effective when they use half as many words. Saying more with less words is very good advice – but it’s advice that I very seldom take. :)

      When I write, I’m not trying to create a perfectly written article that would need no further exposition. I’m trying to make a contribution and I’m inviting contributions in return. In writing, my second greatest joy is when I express something particularly insightful, particularly well. My greatest joy is when others take what I have written and use it as a stepping stone to reach an even greater insight.

      Knowledges is not about being perfect. That would presume that there is nothing more to learn. Ever. Knowledge is about growing our understanding. And that journey never ends.

    • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/his-divine-shadow His Shadow

      Valiant effort, but outsmarted only yourself.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/lastone1968 LA Stone

    One big mistake of this article is that it seems to assume that because Apple didn’t do it even though they had time, then it must not have been the right thing to do. The other mistake is using the word ipad and work in the same sentence. Nothing about the ipad relates to work. It’s all play. Why do people by ipads? Because they like them? Because they are advertised and promoted very well? Because the competition is thus far so sloppy that it feels like they’re designed to help sell ipads? Because they are really smooth and feel nice to use? Because people are more about play than work? I suppose the reason that people buy ipads is a combination of all the above. But from my experience with ipad owners, they’ve all said that they would love to be able to install real programs on it.

    Why did previous tablets not sell well? Maybe because they sucked in terms of the user experience. Maybe because they were never advertised and promoted to consumers. They were always considered business devices. You can’t buy a tablet PC at any large consumer oriented retail store such as Walmart or Bestbuy.

    My way of thinking is aligned with Microsoft’s. I find it ridiculous to spend 5 or 9 hundred dollars on an anti-productivity machine.

    What’s different with the new Windows 8 machines from old tablet PCs, or maybe I should say what needs to be different is the user experience. It has to be enjoyable and smooth like ipads. Microsoft did it with Windows Phone but I have my doubts whether or not they can do it with full Windows 8. Either way, I’ll be getting a Windows 8 tablet because I’m more interested in productivity than Angry Birds.

    • benbajarin

      Thanks for the comment LA Stone. I agree with you that the Windows 8 implantation is going to be interesting and my firm is very anxious to evaluate it.

      However, I respectfully disagree that you can not create or do productivity on the iPad. iPad is being tested or deployed in over 85% of Fortune 500 businesses. I doubt that IT mandates and CEO’s are demanding their IT departments deploy iPad so all their employees can play Angry Birds.

      I use my iPad with the Logitech Ultraslim keyboard cover and I can literally accomplish more than 80 percent of my regular work tasks as an analyst.

      Our research in this area is showing the same results that more and more professionals and consumers alike are becoming comfortable producing real work on the iPad.

      Rumors have it that MSFT is going to bring Office to iPad also and if that happens then even those who want Office can do so on the iPad. I have found equally compelling software to office currently on the iPad like Apple’s iWork that is completely sufficient for being productive.

      So although you claim that the article makes an incorrect assumption, the overwhelming market evidence is that the iPad can be used as a productivity tool as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594289803 Jerry Ballard

      Hint… All ‘productive work’ does not consist of data input via keyboard.

    • FalKirk

      “One big mistake of this article is that it seems to assume that because Apple didn’t do it even though they had time, then it must not have been the right thing to do.”-LA Stone

      That’s not what I’m saying or, at least, that’s not what I intended to say. What I tried to say was that it’s clear that Apple not only had the time to release a product similar to the Surface but they’ve made several public statements indicating that they have no intention of doing so because they think it is a mistake. It’s up to the markets to decide which approach, Apple’s or Microsoft’s, is the correct one. But Surface won’t beat Apple because Apple was unprepared. Both Microsoft and Apple are going into this with their eyes wide open and their divergent philosophies on display for all to see.

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  • http://twitter.com/thetimchannel Tim Fuller

    Microsoft didn’t “release” anything. From what I can tell, even the press had a hard time actually putting their hands on the tablet for anything other than photo ops. When MS finally “releases” the tablet, you are all gonna be shocked to see it is really just the Courier they promised years ago, and all this keyboard-tablet crap was just a diversion. Naw, just kidding. I kinda liked the Courier concept so you know they will never do THAT.

    Every one of these new stories on the Microsoft Tablet seems to be lacking a KEY bit of information: There has been a fantastically rated Apple bluetooth keyboards available FOR YEARS NOW. Integrated cases for Ipad-keyboard ABOUND.

    The high end product may sell OK to businesses who need full Windoze. The cut down version is destined for the landfill…very…very…soon.

    Enjoy.

  • http://twitter.com/thetimchannel Tim Fuller

    Also, every “Ipod Killer” has one other thing in common. Apple slaughtered them all. Enjoy.

  • JDSoCal

    I remember that Simpsons episode. I think the car was called, “The Ballmer.”

    http://simpsons.wikia.com/wiki/The_Homer

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